Wednesday, 14 December 2011

"Who is your favourite writer?"

"Who is your favourite writer?"


As an English Literature graduate, this question is the equivalent of asking a parent, "Which is your favourite child?" or asking a Trekkie, "Kirk or Picard?". Well, maybe I am stretching things a little with the Trekkies because the ones I know are more than happy to enter into a six-hour diatribe on their favourite. Hopefully, this blog post won't take six hours to get through.


People often ask me, "Who is your favourite writer?" because I was a passionate English student at school, I was an English major at university, and because I am now doing a Masters degree in Modern Literary Studies (hold the snorts of derision - this is my blog). Sometimes I will be really difficult with people and reply, "Well, I could tell you my favourite satirist! Or my favourite playwright, Or my favourite poet!", and so on and so on. But, honestly? The novelist, er, author, er... ah, screw it: the PERSON I keep coming back to is Jonathan Tropper.




I was first made aware of Jonathan by an Irish novelist by the name of Ronan O'Brien. I had read Ronan's debut (and to this date, only) novel "Confessions of a Fallen Angel" and then emailed him to pass on my compliments. He responded and cited Jonathan Tropper as one of his inspirations, specifically his book, "How to Talk to a Widower". I had enjoyed O'Brien's book immensely (this feeling was short-lived and I'll get back to why later on), so I wasted no time in checking out this bizarrely-titled book by Tropper. I use the word 'bizarrely' because this was at a time when "Deathly Hallows", "City of Glass", "Breaking Dawn" and the oh-so-imaginative "The Secret" were flying around. Nothing against these books (okay, that's a lie) but they didn't exactly condition me to expect big things from a book with 'Widower' in the title.



A dozen pages in and I was HOOKED! Tropper's style, his characters, his humour, and everything else he was doing came flooding through loud and clear. As a reader, this isn't something which you find too often in the first chapter of a first read of the first book of a new author. I found myself feeling more excited about reading than I had since Orwell's "Animal Farm" back when I was 12 years old. I devoured 'Widower' that weekend, and I quickly went around local bookstores in an effort to track down the rest of Tropper's back catalogue. I soon got my hands on "Everything Changes" and "Bush Falls" (as "The Book of Joe" is titled here in the UK), and read through those just as quickly. In fact, 'Joe' quickly surplanted 'Widower' as my favourite Tropper text and it is one which I cannot wait to get back to once this semester ends and I have time for some leisure reading again.

After 3 strong, entertaining and moving novels, I finally made a start on Tropper's debut piece, "Plan B". This was quite a different kind of reading experience because it was so clear to me that Tropper had learned a hell of a lot since his first book. Please do not misunderstand me: "Plan B" is still a great read, but Tropper's literary voice since then has only become more refined and more confident - as you hope to, but very rarely, see with any new author. Too many come out of the gate all guns blazing, but fall at the second hurdle and never recover. So, having read Tropper's work in reverse, it was refreshing to see a fledgling new writer with lots of potential and to know that all of that potential was well on its way to being realised in the present day.

After finishing "Plan B" in late 2008, it was a bit of a shock to the system to realise that I had well over a year to wait until Tropper's next offering (the 2010 bestseller "This Is Where I Leave You") would be released. In this time, I began my undergraduate degree in English Literature and my habit of recreational reading was soon a thing of the past. Instead, I was buried under Joyce, Synge, Woolf and Poe; Edgeworth, Wells, Darwin and Freud; Dickens, Gaskell, Haggard and Eliot; Dickinson, Hemingway, Austen and Pope; Smollet, Sterne, Defoe and Fielding; and so on and so on and so on and so on.... These folks weren't the shabbiest company with whom to spend my days, and for a while they managed to shake Mr. Tropper out of my head.

Then came summer break of my second year of college when I received an email from Amazon recommending that I pre-order the 'soon-to-be-released, sure-to-be-bestseller latest title from Jonathan Tropper' and I had one of those cartoon moments where my jaw hit the floor and my tongue rolled out to the end of the room.


I knew that name!

I knew that name because I read his books!

I knew that name because I read his books FOR FUN!

You must understand: by this point in my degree I was speed-reading 2-3 novels per week, was barreling through a few hundred pages of critical reviews, and working a part-time job which wound up involving more hours than my actual degree. So to be reminded of the one author in the last 5 years who had made me genuinely excited about reading was oh-so-sweet and oh-so-needed at that particular point in my studies. Come to think of it, I am nearing that point again in my Masters degree, so the sooner Tropper book #6 is released, the better for my sanity!

So, I ordered the book, I read the book, I loved the book. Same old routine as I had come to know when reading Tropper's books, but by this point in 2010 I was beginning to hear rumblings that several of his titles were in the process of being adapted into screenplays. Now, THIS was a real treat for me. I had always described Tropper's books as reading like film scripts, yet maintaining the depth and escapism that one mentally concocts when they talk about a 'great read'. As I type, the projects are still in development and very little is known about the cast/director/release dates; but for now I am happy to know that Tropper's stories will soon find an even wider audience.

For someone who has never read one of his novels before, let me attempt to break down what I find so appealing about Tropper's works of fiction:

  • A fictional world. Forgive the generic heading, but I'm fast encoraching on that six-hour limit I promised not to exceed. Tropper's novels tend to follow one main character, while a wealth of secondary characters populate the narrative and lend their own personal problems to whatever challenge with which the protagonist is saddled. Unlike a lot of contemporary texts which lump secondary characters as thinly-layered plot devices, each and every one of Tropper's figures has a quirk, a voice or a background which inform the ways in which they behave. This leads to a richer narrative and a more memorable story in the long run.
  • Family. Perhaps the most crucial, recurring element of Tropper's novels is family. Whether this is the group of friends who form a make-shift family during a drug-detox in 'Plan B', or the Shiva-sitting immediate/extended relatives who are crammed together for the majority of 'This Is Where I Leave You', Tropper always seems to find some sort of event to bring all of his characters together and exercise the in-built tensions to which we can all relate when we are subjected to the torturous nightmare of a family gathering. The laughing through the tears, the crying through the laughs, the punching through the hugs - it is all there and then some. I have NEVER came across another writer who crafts characters and families with whom I am so easily able to identify. This is coming from a man who rebels against the idea of identifiying the self with fictional creations, but what do you know? Tropper gets to me.
  • Authenticity. Holy crap, how does he do it? I ask myself of this very question every single time that I finish a book. Hell, I ask it after nearly every chapter! The dialogue and the descriptions in these books are among the most raw, real and engrossing that I have ever experienced as a reader. The sex scenes are often full of awkward movements, clumsy manoeuvring and ridiculous excuses for 'dirty talk' (I am still traumatised by Doug's encounter with the neighbourhood nymphomaniac in 'Widower') that we can all unfortunately relate to in some way. What it all comes down to is the refreshing fact that Tropper does not bullshit his audience. I don't know much about Tropper as a person, but it would seem that he is a very down-to-earth, well-educated, professional family man... who just happens to have a wicked sense of humour (that birthday cake visual from 'This Is Where I Leave You' has never left my mind) and a taste for expressing the lesser-featured challenges in life.

Okay, I feel like I am only half done with what I could say, so I am just going to stop now and leave anything else for another day. If this post has made you half-curious about checking out one of Tropper's books, then check out his books on Amazon. You can also find out more information about Jonathan on his website and/or by following him on Twitter.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

I'm living in a Winter Wonderland!

Been decorating the living room this weekend, and here are some of the results:



Friday, 9 December 2011

Victoria Shopping Centre at Christmas

The Victoria Shopping Centre is looking gorgeous at the moment. Get on down and spend money you don't have while basking in the beautiful sights/atmosphere.



Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Candid Magazine

Recently I began writing for a new digital publication called Candid Magazine. I had swore off any form of journalism after working at the Queen's student newspaper, but this magazine has a lot more freedom and diversity to it. Issue 1 of Candid is free to download now, and I strongly recommend giving it a go as it has the potential to grow in to something incredibly fun for people interested in fashion and the arts.




My first article for the magazine was a review of Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris and I would really appreciate people checking it out if they are thinking about seeing the movie. I couldn't say enough good things about the film!

Monday, 4 July 2011


I have let this site slide over the last few months as other things got in the way, so here is a quick summation of what has been going on with me:

Yep, I finished my degree and graduated with a high 2:1! This was exactly the result I was hoping for, and it has made postgraduate study a real possibility. Now if someone could hook me up with £12,000 for tuition/accommodation... well - that would be just dandy!

As for postgraduate study, I have some decisions to make. I was lucky enough to be offered spots on courses at London Met, Oxford Brookes, and my current stomping ground QUB. At this present moment in time, I cannot say where I will end up, but the deadline date for decision-making is fast approaching, so watch this space. The one thing I do know is that I no longer want to pursue a career in Journalism. I tried it, I had the fun of seeing my name in print, but honestly I just don't love it. The paper I was contributing to was determined to confine me to the "reviews" section and it seemed that time and time again, any 'opinionated' piece would be sidelined and they would request something more sickeningly positive. Being a critic just isn't in my nature and I sure as hell am not thick-skinned enough to deal with daily complaints about what I write. Maybe I would feel differently if I was passionate about it or had a say in what I was writing, but when I am getting flak about pieces I don't even care about, it is hard to see the point in continuing. I don't mean to sound like a victim or like I am deeply bothered by negative comments. People can say what they want, but better they direct their energies at someone who is the least bit interested in what they have to say. So no more journalism for now, and certainly no journalism degree. Maybe I will come back around to this one day and pursue it in a different manner, but for the future I am locking my poison pen away and focusing on other things.

Now, I had a real treat last month when one of my favourite contemporary crime authors, David Peace, attended an event as part of the Belfast Book Festival. Peace is based primarily in Tokyo, so the opportunity to see/hear him read in public was too good to pass up, as was the opportunity to have a brief chat with him - which I did in fact manage! I have spent the last 3 years studying writers from every past era imaginable, and while that was quasi-enjoyable, I get a real kick out of Peace because he isn't dead, dying or buried in a pauper's grave in the middle of County Sligo (seriously, the great writers of English Lit are depressing as hell!).


In other news, I turned 21 a few days ago and that was an event made memorable by an array of mishaps so oddly comical that you would expect to find them in a Carry On movie. I won't go into them here because, quite frankly, you wouldn't believe me if I did. But I celebrated my birthday down in Dublin with some family members and we had some fantastic times. An unexpected gift was a new Nikon D3000 which I took full advantage of when we explored Phoenix Gardens and the Remembrance Garden. Here are some results from the weekend:

Next on the agenda: GRADUATION!! The ceremony is this Wednesday and I am genuinely looking forward to it. Got my suit, my gown, my tickets. Now I just need to get through the ceremony without tripping onstage, sneezing all over the Chancellor, or getting the time of the ceremony wrong (apparently this is something at which I'm very adept these days). After that, I have no major plans for the rest of the summer. Once I figure out where the hell I am studying come September, then I can figure out how I want to spend the rest of my summer break. After so many years of strict school routines (from primary, to secondary, and then higher), it has been fun to live without any schedule or time-frame. This year I have completed a degree, come away with strong grades, seen and met long-time idols, chose a new career and said goodbye to an old one, and scolded at a drunk Brendan Fraser for trying to tell me how to work an iPhone. Those are all moments to savour, and there is still another half of the year to go, so who knows where I will end up by the end of it? I for one am sure as hell not in any hurry to find out!

Fun times indeed.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

First weekend of the year in Donegal

For the 14th year in a row, my family and I have began our seasonal trips to Donegal, specifically Bundoran. It is always great to go there because I get to spend time at the beach and get away from the urban madness. Here are a bunch of photos I took over the Easter weekend.

View from our holiday apartment


Rougey Cliff Walk


Rossnowlagh Beach